Think of the greatest commercial LPs made during the past 72 years: the Solti-Culshaw recording of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, Magda Tagliaferro’s D’ombre et de lumiere, Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, John Lennon’s John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and a thousand or so others.
Music lovers were able to buy those records because somebody believed that selling them could be profitable. If that’s capitalism at its best, then capitalism at its second-best is surely those somebodies who rescue long-unavailable LPs from commercial and/or sonic oblivion by investing time and money in tracking down the original master tapes, acquiring permission to reissue them and the artwork that accompanied their original release (the latter more daunting than it sounds), and remastering and re-pressing high-quality LPs for contemporary listeners. The opportunity no longer exists to hear the above-named artists in concert; the opportunity to buy their original recordings has also come and gone. Yet, today one can purchase on LP a greater number of historically great titles than even five years ago, and more are on the way.
Since making a name for themselves in the 1990s by reissuing a great many titles from Decca’s SXL series of classical LPsrecordings that have few if any peers, musically and sonicallyGerman reissue house Speakers Corner has directed their attention to other labels, including classical titles from Columbia (US). Their most recent LP in that series is a reissue of the recording by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra of Richard Strauss’s Symphonia Domestica (Columbia MS 6627), originally released in 1964. Szell’s catalog with the Cleveland is inconsistent, some recorded performances offering little beneath their icy crust, but this one is full of passion. The recorded sound is like the playing: crisp, clear, and forceful, but not at all lacking color. If you think Columbia never made good-sounding classical recordings, you really must hear this.
Also new from Speakers Corner is a 1960 live recording from Charles Mingus and assorted luminaries: Mingus at Antibes, a two-LP set that was originally released in 1976 on Atlantic (SD 2-3001). The program of mostly Mingus originals is challenging yet accessible, the performances are electrifying, and the live sound is almost miraculously good.
Other Stereophile contributors have written about the Tone Poet series of LP reissues from Blue Note: all-analog remasterings of lesser-known classics from the label’s roster of historically great artists. If you haven’t yet sampled this series, I urge you to seek out a copy of tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter’s Etcetera (Blue Note B1 7243 8 33581 1 3), which was released during the first half of 2019. Recorded in 1965 but kept in the vaults until 1980, Etcetera is a collection of mostly Wayne Shorter compositions made with Herbie Hancock on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Joe Chambers on drums, and with typically vivid, lifelike sound from engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The music is equal parts moody and muscular, the latter quality thanks largely to Chambers’s often astonishing drumming. For three months running, this stunning LP has been in the short pile next to my turntable, and I won’t be filing it away any time soon.
While planning this column, I intended to highlight the most recent release from the Electric Recording Company, the British reissue house known for investing enormous sums to purchase and refurbish their own all-analog, all-vintage record-mastering chainand for selling their carefully curated, strictly limited-edition reissue LPs at prices that are distinctly higher than average (yet that typically don’t approach the stratospheric prices of the rare originals they duplicate, in sound, look, and feel). Trouble is, as we go to press, it appears that ERC 049, a reissue of the 1960 Leonid Kogan-Constantin Silvestri recordings of the Mozart Violin Concerto No.3 in G and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor (Parlophone SAX 2594), has already sold out. In the event that some of those copies went to resellers, note that the sound of this ERC LP is sublime and the performances thereinespecially the Mendelssohnare best described as events.
A final bit of news for this month: In September, Intervention Records ordered yet another pressingthe sixth, I believeof Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M SP 4175), the 1969 debut by the Flying Burrito Brothers, which had been out of print for a time. (To maintain the highest sound quality, Intervention replaces its stampers every 500 copies, which I believe is half the volume of some contemporary LP vendors, and less still than some old-testament record companies.) The IR reissue sounds less compressed than my already good-sounding original, and offers more touch and force. Bonus points for the faithfully reproduced cover art.
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